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Holidays a good time to renew traditions

— Tradition is nothing to trifle with once you lose it, it’s difficult to recover. But when you have it, tradition can enrich your life.

Turn your back on tradition, and discover regret, just like the powers that rule collegiate football did this week. All the gnashing of teeth and chestpounding this weekend over which team deserves to go to the Rose Bowl is beside the point. Neither Nebraska or Colorado belongs in the Rose Bowl and tradition has not been served.

For more than 50 years, the champions of the Big Ten Conference (this year, it’s Illinois) and the Pacific 10 Conference (this year, Oregon) have met in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The tradition has been cast aside by old men who hold money closer to their hearts than they do tradition. They are to be pitied. All that remains is to change the name of the Rose Bowl to the Heftytrashbag.com Bowl.

I would suggest to you that the University of Colorado can find more honor in playing Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day than the excellent football team from Lincoln will find in Pasadena.

Fortunately, for the rest of us, this is a season full of wonderful traditions.

I rediscovered the pleasure tradition brings again this week when an old buddy called, just like he has faithfully for 18 years. He called to confirm that it was time to go out into the forest and cut down a Christmas tree. This year, I cut a tree that was growing close to others, just like I (almost) always do, so that my harvest would serve the purpose of creating more room for another young tree to reach maturity. And, just like we always do, we toasted the passage of another year with a very cold beer, but not until we had the trees stowed in the truck.

When we began the habit of cutting trees together, we weren’t aware it would become a tradition. That can only come with time.

Neither of us had a child the first few years we cut trees together, but as soon as the boys were old enough, they joined us in our annual outing.

Predictably, they now have more important things to do on the second Sunday in December. But we are also able to predict that one day they will rejoin us; that is, if we keep the tradition alive.

The exact way in which you observe a holiday tradition is not as important as the fact that you observe it in the same way each year. I know people who decorate their Christmas tree on Thanksgiving Day. But my wife’s family in Buffalo, N.Y., waited until Christmas Eve to decorate the tree.

The good news was that they didn’t have to wait until morning to find out if Santa Claus had come. The guy in the red suit rang the doorbell and entered the house in plain sight, handing out gifts. In my nuclear family, that would have been regarded as a strange variation on the Santa Claus tradition!

For many years, we observed the Christmas Eve tradition of dining on oyster stew. I have since acquired a taste for oysters. But as a 10-year-old, I was not that eager to confront a large, squishy oyster swimming in a thin broth of hot milk. That is a tradition, the passing of which I have not mourned.

I had a friend in the dorms at the University of Wisconsin who grew up with the tradition of engaging in a Polish sausage-eating contest with his father before going to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

I have another friend who makes a huge kettle of spicy cabbage rolls on New Year’s Eve, just as her mother’s mother made them.

My own father makes English toffee every December, following the exact practices of his mother. But the recipe is not written down it exists only in his head.

In New Mexico this season, extended families are gathering around large tables to wrap fresh tamales in corn husks. The process is too labor intensive for one person to make the seasonal delicacies alone in their kitchen. Thus, it’s necessary for families to come together, bound by tradition.

I had the opportunity to sample a traditional tamale or three last year when one of my wife’s students brought her some as a gift. In this case, the traditional tamales were able to bridge a language gap, something that made them all the more special.

Each of these traditions is peculiar to a culture, and even to an individual family.

Talk about traditions that have been carried on for centuries, the Jewish tradition of lighting a candle for each night of Chanukah must be among the best-nurtured of all holiday traditions.

This season, don’t rely on crazy bowl games for the source of your family traditions. If you’ve let an old tradition lapse, think about renewing it.

If you don’t have family traditions of your own, start one. But be sure to nurture it through the years.

And if you decide on oysters, I recommend that you fry them, rather than stewing them


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